Universities worried about effect of UK immigration crackdown on foreign students

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UK immigration's plans to continue including foreign students in the net migration numbers has a "terrible" effect on the Norfolk and Norwich economy, the University of East Anglia (UEA) has said.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the UEA, said the university's 2011 group of non-EU students will be worth £35.6m over the duration of their courses in tuition fees. He claimed that a reduction in numbers would leave the Norwich university a "much-diminished enterprise" and would significantly impact the city as well.

Last month, nearly 70 university administrators wrote an open letter to the prime minister requesting "international university students be removed from the net migration statistics", detailing the economic impact the government's crackdown could have. The letter argued that "competitor countries [have started] to introduce visa changes to attract more international students and academics" and the UK is "now out of sync with the way international students are classified in our key competitor countries".

However Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "It's always very tempting to try and meet a target by fiddling the figures . . . That's what you would accuse me of doing if I just redefined away the problem."

With the latest figures showing that the UK's annual net migration is around 250,000, higher than the government target of "tens of thousands". Universities fear the UK government will move to reduce the number of foreign students granted Tier 4 visas since they are currently counted towards the figures.

Although, Green insisted this was not the case: "There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them. But we are determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands."

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